The Undergraduate Ambassadors' Scheme is an ideal way to find out whether a teacher's life is for you, writes Sarah Houlton

The Undergraduate Ambassadors’ Scheme is an ideal way to find out whether a teacher’s life is for you, writes Sarah Houlton



A teacher’s life for you?

Have you wondered whether teaching chemistry might be the career for you, but aren’t sure? One way of finding out is the Undergraduate Ambassadors’ Scheme (UAS), which allows science students to spend time in schools - and gain credits towards their degree in the process. It can give you an insight into whether you really would like teaching - and might also help you realise it’s not the career for you, saving you the time and money involved in doing a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE).

The RSC is one of the professional bodies that backs the scheme, and numerous chemistry departments around the country offer it as an option to their students. One of these is at the University of Reading, where the scheme is run by Elizabeth Page. ’We offer it to our students as a third year project, where they spend a day a week for two terms in the school, working in different classes and carrying out a project as an alternative to a lab-based research project,’ she says. There is also an option to do half a day a week in school for a term.

From 11 to 18 

Ideally, the students will see the whole range of year groups from Year 7 (11-12 year olds) to Year 13 (17-18 year olds), and get the idea of what it’s like to work with different age groups. ’The projects can be education-based in terms at looking at how children learn, or developing resources for teaching. This year, one student is looking at the new AS [advanced subsidiary] level and developing resources for the parts of the syllabus that weren’t on the old one, and another is working with different year groups to see where enthusiasm for science drops off, and why.’ 

The University of York’s chemistry department is also involved in UAS, where it’s run by Andy Parsons. Again, students have the option of working in a school as a third-year project. ’I want them to experience life as a teacher, first by observing lessons, then helping with practical classes or science clubs and, crucially, developing new teaching material for chemistry that fits in with the syllabus. The project runs for 10 weeks, and they are in school for a minimum of one day a week as well as developing their project outside school - but most students go in more as they get really into it!’ 

The students find it a very positive experience, claims Parsons. ’They gain a lot of confidence, as well as improving other skills such as communication and timekeeping, and of course presentation skills,’ he says. ’I’m a big fan of the scheme, and it’s turned a lot of our students on to teaching.’ Indeed, of the seven students who took the option last year, all are now doing a PGCE. And, typically across the whole scheme, about half of the students go into teaching, according to UAS national director Ray D’Inverno. 

Good CV material 

At Reading, Page says students also get experience that will be an advantage when they apply to do a PGCE, giving them something to discuss in interviews. ’Equally, they may decide that it’s not for them after all. But the hope is that they will like what they see,’ she says. ’It’s also useful even if they don’t choose to go into teaching. They learn a great deal about themselves, and the transferable skills such as planning and communication are very useful. They even get material for future job applications, answering those "Have you ever been in a situation when." questions.’ 

But it’s not just the students who benefit from the scheme - importantly, the schoolchildren do, too. ’The students are role models for chemistry and higher education, and can talk to [children] about what it’s like to go to university,’ Page says. ’They inspire the children, and the teachers benefit too - last year, one of the teachers told me the student helped them update their own knowledge of chemistry.’ 

Parsons at the University of York agrees. ’The students get an enormous amount out of it and a lot of confidence. And for many of the kids it’s the first time they’ve spoken to a university student or even a chemist, and it can help them set their sights higher. By enthusing about chemistry and talking about what they do, it should inspire more children to study chemistry.’ 

Sarah Houlton is a freelance science journalist based in London, UK